Grades Improve When Gen Z Engages with Active Learning

Grades Improve When Gen Z Engages with Active Learning

Heather Bliss is a Graduate Student Instructor and PhD student at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and the best word to describe her is ‘fearless.’ Less than 24 hours after the University purchased Echo360, Bliss was using the platform to teach more than 100 students in her General Psychology class. Despite being halfway through the Spring 2018 semester when the purchase was completed, she did not want to wait for the new semester to begin.

Her enthusiasm for the technology paid off for her students. In just a half-semester using Echo360, her students were more engaged in class, were participating in peer-to-peer discussions, and increased their average exam scores by a half-letter grade (from 78.9 to 81.4). DFW rates dropped an average of 4% to less than 1%.

Bliss recently shared her experiences at our user conference in Chicago about how she uses Echo360 in her teaching and the impact it has had on her students.

“There has to be an app for that!”

Bliss, who holds a Master’s in Cognitive Psychology and a Bachelor of Science degree in Behavioral Neuroscience describes herself as a ‘nerd’ who recently found a new passion: teaching.

“I love being in the classroom with students and I love the subject matter,” she told our user conference attendees. “But, when I went into my class I began to notice that the more than 100 students there were not having a good time.”

She explained that after every class, students would line up to ask questions about her lecture.

“It was the same every day,” she said. “I would have this long line of undergrad students asking the same question, over and over. I decided that there must be a better way. There must be a way that I can encourage these Gen Z students to engage with me. They’re embarrassed to stand up and ask questions and I wanted to help them get over that. So, I started looking for ways to counteract that.”

Like any good Millennial, Bliss was certain that “there has to be an app for that.”

In her search to find a solution, she experimented with other student response systems and even tried to use Twitter to engage with students. Eventually, she came upon Echo360. She attended the Echo360 user conference in 2017 in Washington D.C. to learn as much as she could about the system and returned to Ole Miss where she championed for its purchase.

Recorded Lectures Give Students the Ability to Keep Pace with Coursework and Greater Accessibility

During that first semester, Bliss used Echo360 personal capture to record her lecture. She uploaded her presentation slides into Echo360 along with several questions or polls that she interspersed throughout her lecture.

“I didn’t change my lesson plan,” she said. “In the past I would poll students by asking them to raise their hand. But, I couldn’t give them points for their answer. Now, with Echo360, I have real polls, in real-time.”

About halfway through the second half of the semester, Bliss surveyed her students to understand how they were using Echo360 and if they found it useful. Not surprisingly, students rated the lecture recordings as highest among the things they liked best about Echo360.

“One might think students wanted Echo360 lecture capture, so they could skip class, but that wasn’t the case,” Bliss explained. “I looked at attendance before and after we implemented the system and there was no difference.”

Bliss then identified students who consistently skipped her lectures and found that the same students who skipped class before Echo360 did so after she started using the system. In fact, according to Bliss, those same students rarely, and in some cases, never logged into the system to watch recorded lectures.



Since Bliss presents her class live, students who are unable to attend can either view the lecture and class remotely or use the recorded lectures to keep pace with their students. This is especially helpful for student athletes who often miss class.

“I work very closely with the athletic academic advisors,” says Bliss. “If these students are away, they can simply log into my class and keep up.”

Bliss also recounted the story of a student who was ill for most of the semester. The student was able to pass the class with an A because she was able to attend class remotely. According to Bliss, if it weren’t for Echo360, the student would probably have dropped the course and would not have been able to finish on time.

Greater Student Focus and More Discussion

“At first, students didn’t like the note-taking feature,” Bliss said. “Students were trying to transcribe everything I said in a lecture as well as write down everything that was on a slide. They weren’t thinking or listening, and they were struggling. Once I received the survey results, I taught them how to take notes. I showed them how their notes are automatically mapped to the slide and to the video.”

According to Bliss, with their newly found note-taking ability, they began to pay more attention in class. They were thinking and focused on the lecture and presentation. “Students are so pressured to record all the information from their instructor during lecture that they just cannot think about the material itself during class. Giving them the recordings of lectures takes away this pressure and allows them to be present in the material – rather than just physically present in the classroom.”

Another breakthrough were the discussion threads that emerged during and after class.

“This is why I wanted to use Echo360. I wanted students to be able to communicate with each other without having to interrupt class. Discussions threads began to emerge around the topic on which I was presenting. You could see how the students were applying what we were covering in class.”

Improved Outcomes: Higher Grades, Fewer Failures

After seeing a positive response from students and watching classroom participation rise over the course of the semester, Bliss wanted an answer to the most important question: did Echo360 make a difference? She received approval from the Ole Miss Office of Institutional Research to compare grades pre- and post-Echo360.

Her research revealed that average exam scores increased from 78.9 to 81.4 with Echo360. The number of students receiving A’s increased by over 20 percent and the number of students receiving D’s and F’s dropped by 60 percent.

Next Steps: Making Learning More Active

Bliss told our conference attendees that she plans to increase the number of activities in her classes to encourage more interaction. She plans to add group activities to capitalize on the discussions that are now naturally occurring in her classes.

“I just jumped in and started using the system,” says Bliss. “I’m only using a small portion of its capabilities so there is a lot of room to grow. But the results show that students really benefit from this and that is very rewarding. Seeing how students have responded is very gratifying and it’s made my teaching more fun.”

Bliss also plans to continue research on the impact Echo360 has teaching and learning.

“I am conducting a new IRB approved study this semester concerning Echo360 and its components. So now that we have this initial data we can move forward inspecting what, why, and how echo360 is helping students learn.”

If you would like to learn more about Echo360, please contact us. We’ll be happy to set up a personalized demo for you.

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